Overwhelm.

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Because I have both a very dodgy spine and fibromyalgia, I frequently find myself overwhelmed by pain and fatigue. People can find things such as motion,  loud noise, emotion or anxiety overwhelming.

Overwhelm is an old word with even older roots: it evolved from Old English, and from Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European before that. The original Middle English sense of the word was quite physical, but it soon became less literal in its application.

In the mid-14th century, the word overwhelmen meant to turn upside down, overthrow, or knock over. This word was derived from the Middle English word whelmen, meaning to turn upside down“, which is the origin of the word whelm, meaning submerge or engulf

Whelm was a Middle English blend of whelve and helm, which had evolved from the Old English words gehwelfan, meaning bend over and helmian meaning cover.

Overwhem had come to mean to submerge completely by the early 15th century, which made whelm rather redundant. It is evocative of a boat being thrown about and overcome by waves, or a person at the mercy of a current, waves or tide of a body of water.

Photo by Andre Moura on Pexels.com

By the 1520s, overwhelm had gained another sense: to cause complete ruin or devastation. Thus, one could be overwhelmed by a storm or by debt, rather than just by liquid.

Underwhelm is a relative newcomer to the party: it was not recorded until the mid-20th century as a somewhat derisory play on overwhelm. To underwhelm is to fail to gain approval or favour, while be underwhelmed by something or someone is to be less than impressed.

Overwhelm.
#words #etymology #language

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